Free is just another word…

Have you seen the commercials where the guy is singing about In one he and his band are dressed as pirates in a cheesy seafood restaurant. In another, he and his “posse” are playing their instruments and singing as they drive a mangled used subcompact car off the lot.

The jingles are very catchy, the kind that get stuck in your head and won’t leave until you think of something even stickier and nastier, like “I’m too sexy for my shirt.” (Sorry, I had to do it.)

In the car commercial, he sings “F-R-E-E that spells free credit baby.”

Only guess what? isn’t free. It charges a monthly monitoring fee, which you can cancel without ever paying, although I’m guessing that many people forget and I’m betting their business model is based on a particular percentage of people doing exactly that.

In their defense, at the end of the commercial, in fine print at the top of the screen and in a rapid voiceover they say “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.”  I guess that constitutes fair warning that something is up, although there’s no mention of a fee of any kind, while the URL is highly visible in bold white type in the lower right corner throughout the entire commercial.

On their website they are equally clear and honest. In small gray type on a grey background, smaller than the bold type on the rest of the page, off to the side, away from the big golden oval that says, in glowing letters, “Get your Free Credit Report & Score,” it says:


When you order your free report here, you will begin your free trial membership in Triple AdvantageSM Credit Monitoring. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period**, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership., Inc. and are not affiliated with the annual free credit report program. Under a new Federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. To request your free annual report under that law, you must go to”

That’s quite a different little tune than “F-R-E-E that spells free credit baby.”

Listening to that song got me thinking about another song, which I hereby dedicate to those champions of misleadership at (Apologies to Kris Kristofferson, who wrote the original Me and Bobby McGee – yes, he wrote it, not Janis.)

Free is just another word for hidden fees to pay,
those fees are piling up now every day,
New is just another word for same stuff different day
Don’t they have to mean the things they say, oh yeah,
How can it be free if we have to pay?

Can someone please explain to me how we as an industry expect people to listen to our ads and believe our claims when we keep singing the same misleading song?

Social Media

What do Eminem, Elton John and my 12 year old niece have in common?

What do Eminem, Elton John and my 12 year old niece have in common?


Got your attention? Good. Because I want to talk to you today about word of mouth advertising. I think it’s one of the most powerful advertising tactics to ever be invented, and it’s getting more popular than ever. More on that in a bit.

Back at the turn of the century there was a lot of controversy surrounding a young white rapper named Eminem. Everyone had an opinion about him. He was hateful…spiteful… a homophobe, a racist, a sexist. He hated Jews, Christians, Catholics, Muslims. And his music? It was awful… empty… filled only with hate, teaching our kids to do drugs, rape women, kill people… in short, seducing the morals of our youth. (Didn’t they charge Socrates with that and force him to drink the hemlock?)

I first became aware of Eminem in the summer of 2002. A good friend of mine told me all about him. That friend was Elton John. Now don’t misunderstand me — Elton John has no idea who I am. But I’ve been listening to Elton John as long as I’ve been listening to music. When I got my first stereo, one of the first 3 albums I bought was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” I had a poster of “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” on the wall of my room right near my bed. I spent more than one night sleeping on a street in a ticket line in the 70’s and 80’s to get good seats for an Elton John concert.

For many of us, when Elton John admitted to being bisexual in Rolling Stone in 1976, it changed how we looked at gender preference. When he married a man in 1984, it was another milestone.

Elton is also one of the most avid music fans there is. I remember more than once hearing him talk about going out to the music shops to get the new releases the day they came out. He sounded like a little kid he was so enthusiastic.

So when Elton John said he was a big fan of Eminem, it caught my attention. Here was one of the most famous gay men in the world saying that it was okay to like Eminem, reputed to be one of the biggest homophobes to ever spew hate into a mike. Elton even did a duet with Eminem at the Grammy’s in February that year, saying “If I thought for one minute that he was hateful, I wouldn’t do it.” (Check out the CNN article here.)

The duet they did was on “Stan,” this amazing, self-aware, reflective song on the relationship between a singer, a fan, personal choices, responsibility, etc. It’s the kind of song a talented writer could write, not the kind of song a mindless sprayer of hate could come up with. The music video of “Stan” on MTV was the first Eminem song I heard, and I was instantly hooked. This was a great song.

So I went to my 12-year old niece and asked her to recommend an album. She told me that The Eminem Show was his best, but that The Marshall Mathers LP had Stan on it. She suggested I start with that one. She was right…The Marshall Mathers LP was a good place to start, but The Eminem Show was better. So good in fact that it’s made my own personal 8 “Desert Island Discs” List.

That’s the power of word of mouth, that you will listen to the recommendation of a voice you trust, even if it’s one you’ve never met. (See, I told you this was a post about word of mouth!) If somebody I didn’t know had told me that I would love Eminem, that I would eventually come to consider him one of the great lyricists of all time, I would have laughed in their face and ignored them. But because it was a voice I’d trusted all my life, a recognized expert in music whose own music had brought me literally decades of pleasure, I listened and decided to try out a new product.

Then I went to a person who I knew would be up on current trends to give me some additional advice about which album to buy. (If you ever want to tune into the cutting edge of popular culture, talk to a 12-year old.)

Word of mouth works when it’s honest. When you trust the source of the recommendation. When a guy who runs a reliable lunch place tells you about a new Greek restaurant in Stamford that is good and affordable. (By the way, it’s called Eos, my wife and I ate there for our 9th anniversary this July, and it’s awesome!) When a friend who knows your taste tells you you’ve got it wrong, that you have to see “Fight Club.” Or a friend tells you that “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is so much more than just a “kid’s book.”

But word of mouth isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a technique that can be used without the underpinning of trust. And it’s not something that can be manufactured by just “reaching out to the right people.” If something is not worth talking about, you can’t force people to talk about it, even if you pay them.

Lots of people are talking about adding social media, blogs, word of mouth, viral marketing, and more to their marketing and advertising mix. It reminds me a little bit of the early days of websites, when everyone raced around thinking they had to have a website without thinking about what they would do with it, or more importantly, how it would enable and enrich their relationship with their customers.

Out of all these new tactics, word of mouth is the one that most depends on authenticity and trust, two qualities that can’t be manufactured overnight — or manufactured at all.

So can someone please explain to me why so many companies just assume consumers will listen to anything they say, without first working to gain our trust?

Integrated Marketing Relationship Marketing

Cheesy Reading on the Silk Soy Milk Box

Are you the kind of person who enjoys reading product packaging at the table?

I am. I’ll read anything, even if I don’t eat it. The story of how my natural Sea Salt gets from the sun drenched shores of the Mediterranean Sea to my table. The instructions on how to properly fold a US Flag as part of a Leann Rimes/US Flag promotion on the back of a Kelloggs Corn Flakes box. The exotic ingredients below the parrot on the beautiful label of a bottle of tangy Pickapeppa Sauce from Shooters Hill, Jamaica. (Mangoes and raisins? Mmmm.)

Recently I was reading the side of the Silk Soy Milk carton while having breakfast with my family, and found myself first educated, then disappointed and finally, offended.

Now don’t get me wrong. Silk has a great story, which I learned from reading the side of the carton. I quote, “Did you know that every delicious drop of silk is powered by clean, renewable wind energy?” On the carton I also discovered that Silk has 11 essential vitamins and minerals, natural Omega-3s and antioxidants, 20% less fat and calories than 1% milk, 30% of your daily calcium per serving, and 6.25grams of soy protein per serving.

So I’m thinking now I’m an expert on Silk Soy Milk. I could answer any Soy-based question they asked me on Jeopardy, even one in Final Jeopardy for all the marbles. I could be the lifeline a friend calls on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” when the question is “How many grams of protein are in an 8 oz. glass of Silk Soy Milk?”

And then I get to the “Test Your Soy-Q” side of the box. Man, am I ready to rock or what?

What follows is the actual copy on the carton (and as such I’m sure is Copyright 2008 by Silk or whoever owns it now):

  1. Silk is full of surprises — including some flavors and varieties you might not expect. Can you spot the imposter in a Silk Soymilk lineup?   A) Silk Light Vanilla   B) Silk Banana   C) Silk Chai   D) Silk Plus Fiber
  2. Silk’s so delicious, it’s easy to get carried away. However, Silk is not intended for use in:  A) Coffee   B) Macaroni & Cheese   C) The Bath   D) Smoothies
  3. Nine out of ten Silk drinkers agree that SIlk tastes best:   A) Nice and cold   B) Among friends   C) On weekends   D) All of the above

Not done learning? Good for you! Visit


  1. B — Yes, we have no banana. But we do have Vanilla, Very Vanilla, Chocolate Mocha, Cofee, Plain and unsweetened — Plus a few more that we can’t squeeze on this carton. (Visit us online to learn more!)
  2. C — Although we’ve heard some stories.
  3. D — The tenth guy thinks it tastes best in the bath.

Shockingly, I didn’t get a single answer correct. So, why am I disappointed and offended by this cheesy yet innocuous piece of drivel on the side of a box of liquid squeezed out of a bean masquerading as the fluid produced by the mammary glands of a mammal?

Because as a marketer, I was disappointed that Silk wasted the most interactive, engaging element on their packaging with bad jokes and incompetent cross sell. As a customer, I’m offended because Silk enticed me with the tasty promise of ego gratification based on my ingestion of their product attributes and then made me feel stupid for swallowing it. (Plus, I know if I’d just studied the right material prior to the exam, my Soy-Q would be considerably higher than it is now. Oh, the shame, the shame!)

But really, aren’t I making too much of this? I thought I might be, which was why I held off writing this particular post. Until I read a post by Seth Godin the other day about political spin, media outlets and marketers. Speaking of politicians lying, he says, “The spinners lie constantly. They lie with a straight face. They lie sentence after sentence, relentlessly…we don’t really know what to do in the face of non-stop lying. Is this person an alien? Do they think we’re stupid? How are we supposed to respond to the onslaught of disrespect?”

“Do they think we’re stupid?” And then it hit me. I felt personally disrespected by the Silk Soy Milk box.

Sure, as a marketer I care that Silk missed an opportunity to interactively engage their customers. And that if they’d actually asked some interesting and even challenging questions, customers might actually have been “Not done learning?” and “visited us online to learn more!”, thereby increasing site visits, deepening relationship and creating more and better developed opportunities for cross sell and product trial.

But why I’m really offended, what I really care about, is that they have so little respect for me, as a customer, that they think they can treat me like an idiot, and I’ll lap it up. It’s the same way I feel when Ellen Degeneres, whom I adore, tries to tell me that she doesn’t have any “people” who can get her into a Beyonce concert in that stupid American Express commercial. (Full Disclosure:  I have multiple Amex Cards, I love the company, and I wish Ellen and Portia all the best in their marriage.)

These are not companies who are ignorant of customer relationships. Far from it — both were built because they understood what their customers wanted and gave them something other companies did not. And they usually engage with their customers and prospects in an intelligent way. (After all, it’s not like we’re not talking about Budweiser, here.)

So can someone please explain to me why even good marketers sometimes create advertising that assumes their customers are too stupid to tell when they’re being treated like morons?

Social Media

How not to do a social media viral campaign

So back in 2006 a guy named Scott Ableman and some co-workers covered another co-worker’s Jaguar with thousands of Post-it (R) notes and put the pictures on Flickr. The pictures are cool — Scott Ableman’s Flickr page with the pics and story is here. You’ve probably seen them already since they went viral, ended up in millions of emails, plenty of websites, blogs including BoingBoing, made the front page of Digg, etc.  Clearly I live under a rock, since the first time I found out about it was a few minutes ago in the post, “3M ‘Steals’ Post-It Note Jaguar Viral Sensation” on AdRants, Steve Hall’s great blog/website that constantly points out some of the advertising industry’s less admirable efforts.

Scott Ableman's Post-It Note Covered Jaguar Image that was used without permission by 3M Post-It
Scott Ableman's Post-it Note Covered Jaguar

About a year later, 3M found out about it and decided to re-create the pictures in their own campaign. The image has shown up in stores from Norway to Japan, Sweden to Singapore, and Russia to Brazil. The kicker is, they refused to pay the photographer, Scott, the usage fee he asked for, according to this excellent post by Melanie Phung here on her blog, “All About Content”. (Check it out — she’s even got an email from the eMarketing Supervisor at 3M informing Scott they could copy his pictures for $750-$1000, but if he would charge them that same fee, they’d be happy to use his!). At that point, he lowered his fee to $2000 but that was too rich for 3M, a multi-billion dollar multinational.

This was a perfect opportunity for 3M Post-its to join a social media conversation, celebrate the photographer who started it, and get a tremendous amount of positive publicity and buzz. Instead, for a measly up charge of about $1000 from what they’d been quoted to copy it, 3M decided to steal Scott’s creativity, ignore a Creative Commons Attribution license, and spit in the face of the larger social media community.

The real crime of it, no matter how loudly the blogosphere and consumers complain about their actions, is that they’re probably quite content with their actions, and probably won’t even notice any negative impact from the issue. But maybe not.

Can someone at 3M (or anywhere else for that matter) explain to me what 3M Post-It Notes thought they’d be gaining by abusing social media this way, compared to what they’re actually going to lose as a result?

(And just because I don’t feel like getting into trouble for stealing someone else’s property, I want to be clear that 3M and Post-it are trademarks of 3M. There you go.)

(One more note. Jim commented below that I innacurately stated that 3M used Scott’s picture without permission in both my photo caption and my post. I have since corrected both. This post is the corrected version. Thanks for keeping me honest, Jim.)

Directed Advertising Relationship Marketing

Direct Marketing yes, Direct to Consumer (DTC) no!

Direct To Consumer (DTC) prescription drug ads don’t work according to an article this morning in the Washington Post. The Post reported on a five year study of Direct to Consumer advertising by prescription drug companies which concluded that those ads had little impact on sales. The study was pretty clever — it looked at Canadians who were exposed to US ads in English, and used French-speakers in Quebec as the control group. DTC advertising is illegal in Canada (According to the Post, only the US and New Zealand allow it), but English speaking Canadians are exposed to the ads through US media. They looked at 3 prescription drugs:  Enbrel, for rheumatoid arthritis, Nasonex for nasal allergies, and Zelnorm, for irritable bowel syndrome. In the first two there was no difference in patterns. In the third, after an initial spike, usage leveled off between the two groups. The Post article quotes a Harvard Med School professor and principal investigator in the study, Steven Soumerai:  ‘Advertising prescription drugs is “not line popcorn, cereal and hair sprays.”‘

I agree with Professor Soumerai, and this study makes sense to me. The study tests the impact of Direct To Consumer TV and print advertising, the ultimate shotgun approach to interruptive advertising. Shout your message out to the widest possible audience (in this case, so loudly they hear you all the way in Canada!). Then hope that some percentage of them are your targets.

Even worse, no matter how loud you do shout, people eventually start tuning you out. This article about consumer recall of prescription drug ads in AdWeek says that over the last year, Nielsen IAG has determined that those ads are getting less memorable. The article places the blame on slashed budgets, stale creative and other woes, and says that those that remain wouldn’t have made the top 10 based on last year’s recall scores.

My agency doesn’t do any pharmaceutical advertising, but in 2006 we did do a direct mail customer acquisition campaign for a legitimate nutritional supplement (for joint pain) that happened to target a similar group to one of the drugs. We had an overall response/conversion rate of 0.75% and our best cells had response/conversion rates as high as 1.81%. (For response rate here, we mean paid product trial, but since it represents an actual order, I’m equating it to a conversion rate as well. For you internet-only types, direct mail response is different than a click thru, since by definition it actually means an order!) We had a first refill rate of 16.82%, meaning 16.82% of those initial customers ordered a second time. Of those, 68.1% became long term customers, ordering over and over. In other words, our direct mail worked to drive increased sales where big pharma’s DTC seemingly did not.

Why? Because we applied solid direct marketing principals to our client’s product. We found the right groups of people, people who through a variety of means told us they were interested in what we had to offer. We tested the lists, the offers and the messages to find the right mix, and then maximized our learning to achieve solid results. This is why direct marketing often succeeds where other forms of advertising fail, and works especially well for companies with smaller budgets that have to work harder.

Since 1997, when the FDA began allowing DTC advertising, the pharmaceutical companies have thrown a ton of money at consumers — $5 Billion in 2006 alone, again according to the Post. Now, to be fair, some of it has also gone to direct marketing in one form or another. Pharma has been a pioneer in building online communities, providing information and educational resources online, all in an effort to get consumers to request their drugs from their doctors. But as we all know from watching TV, much of it has gone into the airwaves. (I can hear that darn Antonio Banderas sounding Nasonex bee buzzing around as I write this. Oh wait, according to Wikipedia, it is Antonio Banderas!)

So in the face of dwindling budgets, shrinking attention and studies like these, can someone please explain to me why big pharma continues to throw billions of dollars at consumers by trying to interrupt them when it could spend far less just connecting with them?

Directed Advertising

Are you passing the test?

In Fareed Zakaria’s current bestseller, “The Post-American World,” one of the conclusions he reaches about the American education system compared to that of other nations is that “Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.”

This got me thinking about testing, that critical component of successful direct marketing. Thinking and testing come together in direct marketing. We think, then we test. Then we leverage what we learned to maximize our results.

I started in mail order, and I currently work at a direct marketing agency called Tanen Directed Advertising, where we bring direct marketing disciplines to everything we do. Or at least we try to. Sometimes clients say the budgets aren’t there for testing. Sometimes the universes are so small there’s no point — there’s not enough there to be confident that the results mean what we think they mean, or to leverage whatever we might learn from the test, and the incremental cost of splitting up the universe and printing or creating multiple versions is prohibitive.

But it hurts me not to test. A couple of years ago, at AdTech NY, I heard Roy de Souza, CEO of ZEDO,  an internet e-commerce and ad-serving tech company, share this piece of advice about testing: “2 with one difference.” Roy said that if you buy 2 search ads and change one single item between them, they will
never perform the same.

I think that holds true for just about anything.

The Vice President of Marketing for Trump University is a friend of mine, Josef Katz.  He’s the Marketing Maestro who writes the TrumpUniversity Marketing Blog, and he was recently interviewed by eM+C magazine. Along with discussing behavioral advertising and social marketing, Josef talks about how he used multivariate testing of an event registration page to increase conversion by over 75%. 75%! The biggest factor in the increase:  moving the registration form below the fold. He said the move allows visitors to read more about the event’s content before signing up. Before the move, they were still clicking but converting at a lower rate.

A guaranteed winner. Huge increases in conversions. What’s not to like about testing?

And yet, some people don’t like testing. I remember a former client of mine who wouldn’t go with our proposed testing matrix, and said, “I don’t need to test. I go with my gut.” To which I replied, “I go with my gut, too. I just test it, along with whatever else makes sense.”

By now you’re probably starting to wonder, “where’s the question, Jeff?” Well, here it is. There are plenty of people out there on both the client side and the agency side that never test, that look down on direct marketing as somehow less important than “real advertising.” That are more than happy to throw money at events that can’t be tracked to sales, ads that can’t find their targets, and imprinted premiums like pens and flash drives that don’t work very well as ads and, in a short amount of time, stop working altogether.

So can someone who doesn’t believe in testing please explain to me why, in this day and age when testing is so easy, are you failing to test everything that can be tested?

Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

Why are consumers like Western Lowland Gorillas?

CNN had a story today about the discovery of a colony of 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas, well over twice the previously estimated worldwide population of 50,000. Naturalists had searched in vain for the vanishing primate, growing increasingly pessimistic, until researchers from the WIldlife Conservation Society stumbled upon a huge population in a swamp forest in the Republic of Congo.

I couldn’t help but compare this to marketers who have been lamenting recently that its harder to find consumers than ever before. First, there was the mystery of the missing 18-34 males, who traded in their TV for video games and the internet.

Now it’s white, educated, affluent women aged 25-44. They’re going online to watch episodes of broadcast TV, according to a recent study by IMMI reported on

Newspapers are losing readers, while blogs like the are getting more readers than The NY Times. (The Huffington Post claims 5.7 million readers, while the Times claims a total circ of 1,476,400 for their Sunday edition, their biggest day, including their electronic edition.)

But it’s not that consumers are going extinct. Or even that they’re getting harder to find. It’s just that they’re not in the places marketers are used to looking for them. Kind of like the gorillas.

In the same way I’m heartened by the article about the gorillas, I’m thrilled by the recent Communications Industry Forecast written about in USA Today. For the first time ever, by 2012 direct marketing spending via Internet Service Providers, video games and cable and TV providers is predicted to surpass traditional media. And direct marketing is much broader than it used to be, encompassing everything from behaviorally targeted interactive advertising to opt-in SMS campaigns to paid search to emails to digitally customized, personalized mailers to PURLs.

More and more marketers are waking up to the fact that “mainstream advertising” is failing to find the gorillas in the mist, and direct marketing is a more successful strategy for reaching them… even if it means slogging through a data-drenched swamp to get there.

So can someone please explain to me why so many marketers are still looking for consumers where they used to be, instead of finding them where they are?

PR and News

How to get news coverage — for a price!

Perhaps I am naive, in this age of flogs (fake blogs — see a list of some of the more infamous fakes at the Wikipedia article here), Pay-Per-Post, content syndication, paid placement masquerading as content and other forms of hidden influence, to believe that there is a wall between editorial and advertiser when it comes to news organizations, whether offline or online.

No, not perhaps. I am naive. I believe it when a media rep tells me that regardless of my media buy, he can’t guarantee that our press release will end up in the same issue. And if that’s the case with a PR, I’m floored by the idea that you can buy your way into actual editorial, if you’re big enough and have enough money.

MarketingVox had an article yesterday that quotes a PR Week survey saying that 19% of senior marketers admit that their companies have bought ads on a news site in exchange for a news story.

Even worse, this isn’t really new: last year that number was 17%.

My outrage is a year late. But better late than never.

I believe that the only reason to cover a story is that it is newsworthy. For me, the definition of newsworthy is so broad — virtually every story is of interest to somebody — that it is rarely a barrier to coverage.

I also understand that news organizations are businesses. But, like doctors, hospitals, lawyers and law firms, police officers, accountants and their firms and other businesses, journalists and editors and news organizations operate according to a set of agreed upon ethical principals, some backed up by laws.

Is news coverage in return for payment illegal? I don’t know. Is it unethical? In my opinion, it’s unethical, immoral and any other pejorative I can throw at it. It is certainly contrary to any claims of fair and balanced journalism, journalistic integrity, or trustworthiness that all news sources proclaim as loudly as possible. Where is the ombudsman? The ethics committee? What right do these organizations have to cast doubt on independent journalists and bloggers when their own practices are so… compromised?

I am reminded of that famous quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw. “We have established what you are, Madam. Now we are merely haggling over the price.”

So now, let’s turn to the “johns” in this equation.

Is it unethical for the marketers who bribe their way onto the news sits and into the papers? Well, they are willing participants in this unethical process. But some business people will take any advantage they can (in this case, 19%), just as some athletes take steroids and other performing enhancing drugs. When it’s illegal, that’s an issue for the courts. When it’s unethical, that’s an issue for the public.

In keeping with the naivety of this post, can someone please explain to me why this story isn’t getting more press coverage than it is?

Integrated Marketing Relationship Marketing

Pizzeria Uno: Deep Dish, Deeper Engagement

My family loves pizza. One of our favorites is Uno Chicago Grill, which we still can’t stop thinking of as Pizzeria Uno. But whenever we would go there, I would cringe. You see, I have a sensitivity to Canola Oil, that seemingly ubiquitous liquid lipid that has insidiously insinuated itself into prepared food everywhere. Whenever we would go to Uno, I would get ill.

But recently, Uno went from dangerous to desirable, all thanks to the little computer kiosk in their vestibule and the ability to search a full ingredients list for every item on their menu. While waiting to be seated, which can take longer than it does to grow the tomatoes from which their sauce is made, I noticed the kiosk and figured I’d check it out.

With just a few clicks, I was able to discover that, in terms of canola, Spinocolli Deep Dish Pizza was good, Farmer’s Market Vegetable was bad. Simple, unassuming Cheese & Tomato Deep Dish was actually cool, canola-wise, while my old standby, Four Cheese Deep Dish, was catastrophically uncool.

Fascinated, and with nothing better to do, I read virtually every potentially non-meat item on the menu, and found some which I never would have tried before that I could now order with abandon. (Crispy Cheese Dippers and Shrimp and Crab Fondue good; Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas and 4 Flavor Veggie Pot Stickers with Peanut Sauce, both bad, bad, bad.)

Uno turned a pain point (a long wait) into a deeply immersive engagement that deepened my relationship with their organization (and turned a foe into a friend.)

They’re also in step with the trends. With more and more people reading ingredients labels, there’s clearly a growing concern over ingredients, nutritional breakdowns, etc. The labels of prescription drugs often include long lists of food ingredients to avoid when taking them. State and municipal governments are mandating various levels of disclosure, from calories and fat to more, and even banning the use of many ingredients.

It makes sense for restaurants to drop their drawers and let consumers get a good look inside. I think Uno is missing a few tricks, though.

Imagine if I could have typed in the ingredients or allergens I wanted to avoid, rather than having to look through the whole menu, and have all the “safe items” pop up? It might be less effective in terms of time of engagement, but more effective in terms of product trial and loyalty.

What if there were kiosks at every table, so that people with concerns could check out a menu item from their multi-page menu rather than having to ask a server? After all, we’re there to eat. We’re going to order something. Why not make sure it’s the right something, so we leave happy and come back wanting more?

Why not give everyone a wireless menu pad when they walk in the door, so customers could check out the ingredients while waiting and order directly from the pad afterwards? You could still have the order confirmed by a live server, and only activated after people were seated, to avoid scheduling issues, allow for suggestive cross- and up-sell and maintain a level of friendly server/customer interaction. Plus, Uno would never need to print another menu — just download the new one onto the pad.

Some of these ideas are almost certainly cost-prohibitive right now. But since a recent study on Marketing Sherpa just found that customer service is the most important aspect of consumer loyalty, the return on investment may actually pay off.

to customers, customer service wins!
Marketing Sherpa found that customers and vendors disagree over loyalty drivers: to customers, customer service wins!

As the chart shows, many vendors don’t get it. I’m betting Uno does, and they’re milking it for everything it’s worth. Not only will you find the same nutritional breakdowns on their website, but you’ll also find that as of this writing the most prominent real estate on their home page touts their accolades: named “America’s #1 Healthiest Chain Restaurant” by Health Magazine, “1 of the top 10 family restaurants” by Parents Magazine, and Prevention Magazine’s “Guilt-Free Favorite Pizza” (which, by the way, I can’t eat, thanks to… canola oil!).

There are many benefits to taking advantage of the growing consumer hunger to know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies. So can someone please explain to me why most restaurants insist on serving us mystery meals?

Social Media

Did The Energizer Bunny Think We Wouldn’t Talk About This?

Sometimes, when I’m talking with a prospect or a client about internet marketing and online brand/reputation management, and I tell them that there’s probably a conversation going on online about their brand or product, they dismiss the subject. I’ve had responses like “Nobody pays attention to bloggers” or “Our audience isn’t online” or “So few people will ever find out about this that we don’t need to worry.”

In response I trot out cautionary tales like Dell’s Burning Laptop Story or the Dell Hell story by Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis or the disgruntled Spirit Airlines passenger story I first found out about on B.L. Ochman’s wonderful What’ There’s also a good list of other “Brands Punk’d by Social Media” on the Forrester Interactive Blog.

So anyway, I found this photo-investigation by Mike Adams the other day about Energizer rechargeable batteries. It seems that buried within a D-sized case is a smaller rechargeable battery with the same power as a AA. Now, the post looks at this from the point of view of a possible conspiracy theory intended by the battery companies to sell inferior rechargeable batteries in order to push people back to the more profitable disposables, and I’m not going to touch that one at all.

But what I am curious about is why it seems that Energizer has ignored the online conversation about this product. Why they haven’t posted a response on blogs like this thread titled “Energizer “D” Battery Exposed” on the According to Quantcast, has a rank of 3,194 and gets over 2 million visits per month from over 803,000 unique people. In other words, an audience worth talking to. And the thread itself is wonderful. It gets 35 Stars, which seems like a good number of stars to me. Lots of data about batteries, and lots of discussion about the kind of marketing Energizer is engaging in. The general consensus (but by no means the only point of view) of the thread is that even though Energizer was honest on the packaging as to the charge, the D-shape of the outer casing of the battery would lead people to the conclusion that the battery functioned the way they thought a standard D-Battery would. There’s even some disapproval of the how the writer, Mike Adams, used his investigation to also sell a competitive brand of rechargeable batteries at the end of the article, and whether the article was in some way compensated.

All in all, an intelligent, sober, enthusiastic, and mutually-respectful conversation all about batteries, charges, chemicals, durations, branding, marketing, packaging, pricing, reporting, blogging and more. This is exactly the playground Energizer should be playing in. Did they join the conversation? Not that I could tell from reading the 5 page long thread.

Here’s a review on Amazon from last December. Did Energizer post a comment? Not at the time of this writing.

At this point in time, it amazes me that there are still professional marketers and advertisers out there who fail to recognize the importance of the internet and the conversations being had in tiny groups of 20 or 30 or larger groups of thousands and millions.

And yet, there are. Intelligent, successful, marketers who think Energizer is following the right strategy.

What I’m hoping is that one of them reads this post. Because I just don’t get the reticence to embrace social computing, social media, Web 2.0, whatever you want to call it. (By the way, Dell learned from their mistakes, engaged their community, took the hits and came out better for it!)

So, can someone please explain to me why Energizer didn’t engage this community, and why similar companies continue to make the same decision.